About two years ago I had a back-and-forth on climate change with libertarian blogger Rossputin, the Cato Institute’s Jerry Taylor, and the Heartland Institute’s James Taylor. Rossputin recently emailed me to ask: “After ClimateGate, GlacierGate, etc…. do you give even a little credence yet to my view that [anthropogenic climate change is] essentially a hoax?” So here’s an update.

In my original post I accused libertarians of promoting the “Three No’s”:

  1. No recognition that climate change is a theoretical possibility. I am happy to say that we’ve made progress on this: Rossputin and the Taylor boys all acknowledge that it is at least possible that something like carbon emissions could be a problem. This is terrific.
  2. No peace with the IPCC. With the possible exception of Cato’s Jerry Taylor, we have made no progress here. Two years ago libertarian folks were writing about the “impending collapse of the global warming paradigm”, and today the “impending collapse of the global warming paradigm” is —guess what?—still impending. Libertarians used to mock environmentalists for making claims of impending collapse (that we’re running out of food, oil, minerals, etc.) that didn’t pan out; Julian Simon was a master of this, and I admire him for it. But now you’re making the same mistake yourselves, and you deserve to be mocked for it, starting with Julian Simon, who wrote “My guess is that global warming is likely to be simply another transient concern, barely worthy of consideration ten years from now.” He wrote that in 1994. Give it up already! You already agree that climate change is a theoretical possibility (see point #1 above), so it’s not that hard to go from there to accepting the scientific evidence. Speaking of the scientific evidence…
  3. No negotiation about climate change science, i.e., no serious scientific engagement. Here I am sorry to say that we’ve made negative progress. My fear—see my questions below—is that ClimateGate and GlacierGate &etc have eliminated the possibility of reaching agreement simply because we can no longer agree on a data set that will tell us, e.g., about global temperatures. I see ClimateGate mostly as an administrative issue—people who ask others to delete emails to avoid FOIA requests should not be in positions of authority—but I cannot stop others from interpreting it as evidence of “a conspiracy to limit population not only in this country but across the globe.”

So here are my questions, and I’m going to limit myself to one for each of my libertarian friends (but of course you’re free to opine on whatever you want):

  • For Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute: To what extent (if at all) have you changed your views since you wrote the following during our last go-round two years ago?

    “I actually agree with almost all of [Yoram’s original post]… While I don’t pretend to speak for libertarians in general, I think an honest examination of the libertarian community would find that the beliefs Mr. Bauman is attacking are not as widely spread as he thinks. For instance, Prof. Pat Michaels – a senior fellow here at Cato who holds a PhD in climatology and who is widely published in the scientific literature on this matter – agrees that anthropogenic emissions are the main driver behind the warming trend of the past several decades. Moreover, he thinks the IPCC reports are fairly reasonable (albeit not perfect) summaries of the scientific literature (which maybe shouldn’t surprise – he is a member of the IPCC). He believes, however, that future warming will be at the lower end of the IPCC forecasts and that the economic costs will prove modest given the distribution of that warming.”

  • For Rossputin: Is there a data set that we can agree on? Presumably not the Hadley Centre one (although my understanding is that you skeptics were for it before you were against it), but how about NASA (from their graphs page), or NOAA (from their annual State of the Climate report), or… you tell me! The hallmark of science is refutable implications, but we can’t get there unless we can agree on a data set to refute predictions. I’m on board with the IPCC, which predicts global average temperature increases of 0.2 C (0.36 F) for the next few decades. My untrained eye says that they’re doing pretty good so far, so well in fact that IMHO they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt; but if global temperatures rise by less (or more!) than they predicted then I’m going to reconsider. My question for you is whether you believe any of these graphs. If you do then let me know which one and what it tells you and what kind of changes will convince you that you’re wrong about global warming being a “hoax”. And if you don’t believe any of these graphs then then all I can do is encourage you to put a thermometer outside your house and start taking temperature readings 🙂
  • For James Taylor of the Heartland Institute: What changes would you make to this draft PPT of an “introduction to climate science” lecture that I’ll be presenting to my ENVIR 100 students at UW next fall? I’ll take your suggestions seriously, and FYI here’s a smaller PDF version.

PS. Am I still invited for Thanksgiving dinner at the Taylor family compound? I might be on comedy/book tour this fall (promoting my fabulous cartoon economics book; see here for an excerpt on carbon pricing) and Thanksgiving would be fun (especially if your compound is in Hawaii, which is where my girlfriend wants to spend Tgiving this year :).

PPS. Let me repeat something I said 2 years ago:

Listen up, my libertarian friends. You have a lot to contribute to the climate change discussion, in particular by emphasizing the superiority of markets and market mechanisms over the inefficient and often ineffective command-and-control policies that are beloved by lefties. But first you need to take a seat at the table instead of taking pot-shots at something that economists know is theoretically possible and that the scientific consensus says is “very likely”.

We still need you at the table. Check out this this op-ed calling for a revenue-neutral carbon tax co-authored by Todd Myers of the free-market Washington Policy Center here in Seattle; I’d bet that you think it’s a good idea just on the grounds of national security! Imagine how much more likely this kind of revenue-neutral tax reform would be if you put your weight behind it.

Instead we have a GOP “purity test” (“We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap-and-trade legislation”) that demonstrates a complete failure to understand that the way market-based instruments reduce pollution is by making pollution expensive. I half-expect lefties to live in a la-la-land where we get to taste the honey without the sting of the bee (check out this video that manages to talk about cap-and-trade for 6 minutes without mentioning that the price of fossil fuels will go up) , but the right wing is supposed to understand how markets work and right now it’s lost.

Update Feb 18: Here’s Rossputin’s response. Stay tuned for more!